Sylvester Stallone Starred in ‘Cop Land’ to Show Others He Wasn’t a ‘Meathead’

Cop Land was a bit different from the usual films audiences caught Sylvester Stallone starring in. The 1997 crime drama saw The Expendables star playing an internal affairs officer investigating a racially charged crime. Fans saw Stallone break away from his typical action-star roles to do the movie. This was intentional, as he tried to show he was more than just your typical action star meat-head.

Sylvester Stallone believed that most people underestimated his intelligence

Sylvester Stallone smirking while wearing a suit.
Sylvester Stallone | Toni Anne Barson/FilmMagic

As many know, Sylvester Stallone wrote the first Rocky movie. The film would later go on to become an Oscar-winning commercial hit, giving Stallone a career as both a writer and filmmaker. But despite Stallone’s success, the actor still felt there was a prevailing theory in the industry that he wasn’t too bright.

“I bet you expected to find a real dumbbell,” he told an interviewer for Rolling Stone. “I don’t blame you, most people do.”

Stallone shared that this opinion of himself might have stemmed from childhood experiences.

“’You weren’t born with much of a brain, so you better develop your body,’” Stallone recalled his father telling him. “Dear old Pop.”

He would later heed this advice and begin gaining muscle, if only to make a statement to others. But it was a plan that backfired.

“I felt as though I couldn’t communicate, so I thought, ‘How do I let people know that Sylvester Stallone is alive?’” he continued. “And I would do that by coming in in a black T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up and presenting this image of, uh, aggression, that I’m not someone to be tampered with. I thought that would gain respect, but at the time I wasn’t thinking so clearly and it only reinforced that I had the brain of diminishing returns. Basically a hollow gourd up there.”

Sylvester Stallone did ‘Cop Land’ to prove he wasn’t an idiot

Despite the massive success in his career, Stallone still felt he couldn’t get away from the stigma of being a meathead. Doing the 1997 drama Cop Land was a way to combat this perceived stereotype.

“With Cop Land, I was at that point where again the criticism started to bother me, that I was a meathead – this despite Rocky only having six minutes of physicality and the rest just talking,” he once told Empire. “I basically put up my salary to fund the movie because I wanted to prove the point that I wasn’t just a meathead. I wanted to work with really good actors, with all these wonderful actors. It served a purpose.”

The film might not have been as successful as his Rocky franchise for instance, but Stallone had no regrets about his decision.

“I wish it had been more successful, but it was just something that I’m so glad I did because it made me realize what I want to do in the future,” he said.

Sylvester Stallone began to think ‘Rocky’ was a ‘fluke’

Before Cop Land, Stallone starred in a series of movies that weren’t too well received. Films like Judge Dredd and Daylight left stains on his filmography he felt the need to compensate for. That’s where Cop Land came in.

“I knew I’d never be taken seriously again,” he told The Morning Call. “Intelligent people looked at my movies and said, ‘This is athletics, not acting. This is sleight-of-hand, not flesh-and-blood, tear-out-your-heart movie-making.’”

This made Stallone question himself.

“I started to think, ‘Well maybe Rocky was a fluke.’ I could put my life in danger 20 times in Cliffhanger, but it wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans compared to a great moment on film by Bobby De Niro or Harvey Keitel. My movies lacked any connection to humanity,” he added.

Working on Cop Land not only helped Stallone restore his confidence, but also teamed him up with true actors. Stallone admitted the experience was everything he imagined it’d be.

“I’d look over at those guys and there would be smoke in their eyes,” Stallone said. “I’d think, ‘Those guys are gone.’ For the last 20 years, all I’ve heard is, ‘Sly, get away from the car. It’s going to explode.’ This time, I was living with human explosions and it was great.”

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